Thursday, August 31, 2017

Great Things I Read in July and August, 2017 Edition

I'll miss you, Summer 2017! Fun as it was to see people at so many cons, it's nice to have the weather cool down and be able to stay home for a while. While I can't tell you some of the projects I'm working on yet, I am happy to share some of my favorite free reads from over the last two months. As always, everything here is free to read. Just click the link. If you like what you read, please consider donating to the author's Patreon, or subscribing to the related magazine. So many places are struggling to get it done right now.


"Skills To Keep the Devil In His Place" by Lia Swope Mitchell at Shimmer Magazine
-This is somewhere between a possession story and Slipstream. Slipstream usually bends towards the Fantastic, so seeing it wax toward Horror intrigues. Here a girl is going through the typical pains of adolescence - how to bond with people while protecting her psyche, conflict with a mother who seems alternately ambivalent and overbearing. But at the same time, she feels like the Devil himself is sometimes in her eyes, or sitting in her lap, sometimes in disgustingly vivid detail. The story teases us with how this sort of possession will overlap with the person she's turning into simply as a teenager, and whether she'll do right by anyone in her life - her mother, her BFF, or even Satan. The most poignant part is when she's so horrendously bullied at school that the strange demon slithering out from under her bed at night feels like a viable companion. Possession stories don't examine human isolation often enough, but Mitchell gets it.

"Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree" by Nibetida Sen at Anathema Magazine
-A literally and figuratively spirited story! Dating advice is usually awkward, but especially when it comes from a ghost you accidentally swallowed. Our interloper here is a pret, which fell from a banyan tree and into our narrator's gullet. The pret thinks our narrator could do better than her current romantic prospects, and kicks off a delightful series of events that I don't want to spoil. But I've re-read this story three times over August, just to smile to at certain bits.

"I Am David's" by Damara Dianne at Daily Science Fiction
-A profoundly unsettling bit of Science Fiction about two Gwens. It's narrated from the point of view of a new life form so early in development that they identify as their own mother. They're being programmed with her memories, though once they're out and walking, the original Gwen seems quite cold. That Gwen still helps prepare our narrator to serve "David," the master that our narrator absolutely adores, because it's their programming. What are they programmed for? Well…

"Imagitron" by Simon Stalenhag at his blog
-This post features a couple of art pieces by Stalenhag, whose breathtaking work depicts normal people in enormous car pilgrimages across the remains of what look like a war against giant machines. His attention to detail, particularly in creating grand things in equal fidelity to tiny tourists, is gorgeous. As you scroll through their journeys, you get a sense of just how eerie the conflict must have been, and it's fun as heck figuring out where everyone is going.

"The Setting of the Sun" by Benjamin C. Kinney at Compelling Science Fiction
A beautiful story about synthetic life standing against the void of mortality. Kinney does a sterling job getting into the psychology of a swarm that doesn't have a mind. There's minimal anthropomorphism, except where it reads appropriate, like a distress signal humming through them. In those places we see what's common between us and the unfathomable.


"Where to Donate to Harvey Victims (and How to Avoid Scams)" by Christina Caron at the New York Times
-You know about Hurricane Harvey, and the horrible devastation throughout Texas. And you know charities are operating. But as much as I love the American Red Cross's work organizing blood drives and distributing that blood among hospitals (please, give if you can), they have a questionable history with money. Worse are the numerous scams, from both con artists and greedy politicians who just want to fill their re-election funds. This article is a fine introduction on how to get you dollars to the most useful organizations. The first rule of thumb: look for local organizations like food banks and shelters in the area affected.

"First Object Teleported from Earth to Orbit" at the Technology Review
-Not exactly. Or, exactly. It depends how we define "teleport." Atoms were manipulated to instantly mimic the behavior of amazingly distant atoms. Information was transmitted in a way that's wildly exciting and could change humanity's fate every bit as much as the gasoline engine. But the atoms did not actually travel that distance. They did what Captain Kirk did on Star Trek when he was beamed up: they were copied and exactly replicated elsewhere. This still feels like teleportation to me. I am not the same mass of atoms I was when I was born. We constantly respire new air, and ingest new water and food. Our cellular and atomic make-up is not static, and over time we replace our bodies naturally. So if you instantly transmit yourself elsewhere, to a whole new set of atoms in microseconds rather than years? At the very worst, the idea of you traveled. Anything more profound than that begs for philosophical debates.

"Man Fashions Fabulously Tiny Hats for Toad Who Visits His Porch Every Day" by Sara Barnes at My Modern Met
-Chris Newsome had a frequent visitor on his porch: a toad. Where most of us would ignore the tiny amphibian, Newsome decided to be a hero of the internet, and designed a wardrobe for it. It started as a bright pink top hat, which turned into a bright pink top hat with a monocle. Then a baseball cap. At some point it became a Cowboy Toad. The whole gallery is a delight, and the toad was always obliged to pose for the camera.

"Metagames: Horizon Zero Dawn Should Get a Hugo" by Andrea Phillips at Strange Horizons
-Horizon Zero Dawn is one of several excellently written videogames in 2017. Its world is something I haven't seen in games or film before, a post-apocalypse where most life has been replaced by mechanical counterparts living in highly balanced ecosystems. Humanity has survived as tribes that have lost much of our knowledge, but at trying to rebuild civilizations with what they have. The first time you hunt prey through a wilderness that, minutes later, you realize is an overgrown highway, is a majestic moment in games. It's not my favorite game of the year - so far, Nier: Automata and What Remains of Edith Finch might have more deft writing - but it's the latest game that does Science Fictional things in ways that ought to be celebrated. In 2016 it was INSIDE; in 2015, it was Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. Each year most of the elite groups in fandom gather to celebrate SF/F by giving awards to books, short stories, television, film, but not games. This article is both an excellent consideration of why Horizon: Zero Dawn is art worthy of celebration, and another poke at why our awards culture keeps ignoring a medium that an increasing amount of us enjoy.

"Senator with cancer voted to save Obamacare a month after surgery" by Joshua Marcus at Vice News
-It was just a month ago when American politicians tried to pull a vote to kill Obamacare in the middle of the night, replacing it with nothing, and hoping media outlets wouldn't notice. It was a despicable act that sought only to enrich the already rich. It was struck down in part thanks to John McCain playing mind games with his fellow Republicans, in his last major act as a Senator undergoing operations for a brain tumor. Too much of the spotlight missed Mazie Hirono, a Democratic Senator who returned from cancer treatments to also strike the bill dead at midnight. Without her, the vote would've ended in a tie and Vice President Mike Pence, who waited in the back of the room with a grin, would've cast his special vote to kill it all. The U.S.'s nightmarish healthcare system would've gotten even worse. Hirono is a hero who deserves much more attention.

"Cultural Appropriation: Whose culture is it anyway, and what about hybridity?" by Sonny Hallett at Medium
-Authors need to be aware of cultural appropriation, but as much as it's a problem, the concept also becomes a problem. As Hallett explains, too often it seeks to preserve a culture and prevent it from progressing, or boxes in members of that culture as though they have to maintain something that's "cultural" to them. Insisting that people from outside a culture can't take anything both limits intellectual exchange, and reinforces stereotypes that *this* is exclusively Mexican or Japanese or Hawaiian. Hallett makes the best argument I've seen for creating checkpoints at our boundaries let things move, without simply pretending that cultural theft hasn't been a tool of marginalization.

"What's the dumbest thing you've done while your brain is on autopilot?" by Flamehead95 on Ask.Reddit
-A simple thread that reminds you that you aren't alone. The other day I ransacked my kitchen looking for my keys before I realized they were in my left hand. People put their cell phones in the dishwasher, keep their pillow cases and toss their pillows in the hamper, and generally, make mental auto-pilot mistakes all the time. The stories in this thread are often funny, but they're all heartening because you haven't gone daft. You had a human moment.

"Here's What it Would Feel like to Pet a T-Rex" by Jason Bittel at National Geographic
-Remember all those people who smugly said dinosaurs had feathers and the stuff you enjoyed that lacked feathers was wrong? Well it's your turn to be smug to them! The images here are amazing to me. Dinosaur flesh, fossilized but preserved with such a high amount of detail, millions of years later. And yes, it has no feathers, and actually looks like the texture of some claymation dinosaur effects from decades ago. That doesn't mean dinosaurs never had feathers - anymore than a snapshot of one human's elbow means no human ever had hair - but it will factor into how we envision one of earth's most interesting life forms. The scientific consensus changes with new data. That's one of the coolest things about science.


  1. Thank you for the heads up on such a fascinating range of reading.

  2. These sound like really great books! Thanks for sharing.


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